Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pasadena's "Athens of the West" Mount Olympus - The Sacred Mount

Athens of the West Mount Olympus - Our Temple on the Mount

Here from the Mount Wilson Observatory Homepage on Pasadena's founding father and "Solar Priest" George Ellery Hale:

George Ellery Hale was the founding father of the Mt. Wilson Observatory. He is shown here in his office in the "monastery" on the mountain, in a picture that dates from about 1905. Despite having no earned degree beyond his baccalaureate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1890, Hale became one of the leading astronomers of his day. By the time Hale established the Mt. Wilson Observatory in 1904, he had already invented the spectroheliograph, founded the Astrophysical Journal (and invented the word astrophysics), founded the Yerkes Observatory (which then housed the world's largest working telescope), and had been appointed a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. He had been awarded the Janssen Medal by the Paris Academy of Sciences in 1894 and the Rumford Medal by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1902. In 1904 he received the Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society and the Draper Medal from the National Academy of Sciences. Hale was also one of the first three Honorary Members of the Optical Society of America, and he was the Ives Medalist in 1935.
Through Hale's leadership and foresight, Mt. Wilson Observatory dominated the world of astronomy in the first half of the 20th century. It was here that astronomers and physicists made astrophysics a modern science. It was here that they confirmed what galaxies were. It was here that they verified the expanding universe cosmology. And it was here that they discovered many of the workings of the sun. From the point of view of major scientific discoveries in astronomy, Mt. Wilson Observatory may well be the most productive astronomical facility ever built.
Hale was as influential locally as he was globally. He played a major role in changing the Throop Polytechnic Institute into the California Institute of Technology. He played a major role in convincing Henry Huntington to leave behind what became the Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens in San Marino. As a member of the Pasadena Planning Commission, he was largely resposible for the present Pasadena Civic Center. And, of course, Hale was the force behind the founding of Palomar Observatory and the building of the 200-inch Hale telescope.
After his retirement as Director of the Mount Wilson Observatory, Hale built in Pasadena an office, library, and solar telescope where he could continue work on his greatest observational interest - the Sun. The building known as the Hale Solar Laboratory is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is now on private property and not open to the public.
There are no online biographies of Hale that deal with his time at Mt. Wilson. The Astronomical Society of the Pacific has some biographical material related to his winning their 1916 Bruce Medal. The best books in print on Hale are Explorer of the Universe: A Biography of George Ellery Hale, by Helen Wright, and Pauper and Prince: Ritchey, Hale, and Big American Telescopes, by Donald E. Osterbrock. Another excellent reference, now out of print, is The Legacy of George Ellery Hale: Evolution of Astronomy and Scientific Institutions, in Pictures and Documents, edited by Helen Wright, Joan N. Warnow, and Charles Weiner.
Mt. Wilson Observatory Association Homepage
Here begins Avenue to the Sky narrative: Hale held late night torch-lit ceremonies at the Monastery on Mount Wilson where he was the "Solar Priest" and the other astronomers were the supporting monks. What conversations were had at these late night proceedings? No doubt concerning the potential discovery of the Unified Field Theory, as Albert Einstein had excited the entire world scientific community about the possibilites of Energy equals Mass times the Speed of Light squared, meaning there was almost boundless energy to be found in the mass of physical objects.
I recommend all to see the exhibit at the Huntington Library and Gardens expounding on the Great Ones of Science where original correspondence from Albert Einstein to George Ellery Hale, in German as Hale also spoke Einstein's native language, about the testing of Einstein's Theory of Relativity by Hale at Mt. Wilson observatory, the largest and strongest telescope in the world at the time, by seeing if light would be bent by gravity as predicted by Einstein's Theory of Relativity. The experiment was deceptively simple: Einstein asked Hale to observe the space surrounding the Sun during the next solar eclipse and see if the apparent position of the stars in proximity of the Sun's disk would change as they apparently moved towards the Sun's blacked out disk. Hale observed that Einstein's prediction was in fact observable, as the relative position of the observed stars near the Sun's disk did in fact move towards the Sun as their light rays were bent by the overpowering gravity force of the Sun's globe.
More to come on George Ellery Hale, our "Solar Priest" and designer and originator of the Pasadena City Beautiful, the "Athens of the West."

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Sad Fate of the Pasadena Osteopath Dr. Stewart Fitch Medical Clinic Building

Proposed south elevation on Washington Blvd. showing corner of Los Robles on far left

Washington Blvd. street elevation showing historic neighboring structures

Facing north to the reduced size parking lot

View from Los Robles of the proposed new structure

Street elevations showing the scale, massing and outlines of the neighboring structures

The view from the easterly Queen Anne Victorian and the Washington Bungalow Court
All this, the church's proposed new construction, will be heard at the Design Commission on January 25, 2010, Monday night at 6:00 p.m. at the Permit Center Conference Room

What is there now on the NE corner of Los Robles and Washington, Pasadena, CA
An excerpt from the City's North Los Robles Corridor historic inventory of the early 1980's

Before the New Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church purchased the property in 1989

Deteriorated condition of a historic feature in 2009

Deteriorated historic feature in 2010

Casement windows changed out for aluminum sliders, window blocked up, doors boarded over, condition in 2009

French doors covered over with plywood, condition in 2010

The Sad Fate of the Dr. Stewart Fitch, Doctor of Osteopathy, Medical Clinic Building

Monday night, January 25, 2010, at 6:00 p.m. in the Pasadena Planning Department in a hearing before the Design Commission, the sad fate of the historic Dr. Fitch Medical Clinic will be finally decided and it appears that the 1925 building will be destined for the dust heap and replaced by a modernistic cathedral, ill suited for its historic neighborhood.

The New Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church has submitted plans to build a new sanctuary of 9,960 square feet, three stories tall with a height of 40 feet, of modernistic architecture to replace their historic Spanish Colonial Revival style building of 4,141 square feet which they now use and plan to demolish, historic Catalina tiles, historic Batchelder tile fireplaces, and all.

The Dr. Fitch doctor's clinic was built in 1925 as a house, designed by noted local architect H.E. Terrell and built by W.A. Taylor & Son, who was also the builder of the Myron Hunt designed Pasadena Rose Bowl.

The Spanish Colonial Revival style doctor's office, built in a "U" configuration was purchased by the church in 1989 and has been in a state of "demolition by neglect", with boarded up windows and doors and decaying historic features, in the last nearly 21 years.

The Spanish styling is evident in the gabled tile roof and the smooth stucco walls. The front facade (south side) is symmetrical and the building rests above the street with the lot surrounded by a low arroyo stone wall and a high brick wall with a whitewash finish. A series of steps leads up through wooden gates to the front door. The door has narrow side lights and two metal poles mark where the canvas awning belongs. There is a concrete stoop across the front and grouped French doors open on to this area. The building has a rear entry which is marked by a central gabled pergola with a tile roof. There are several stucco-clad chimneys and the building has casement windows. Numerous trees and bushes surround this building, including palms, cypresses and pines. The brick wall surrounds the corner of the lot forming a terraced landscaped area. The gates of the brick wall are distinctive, being formed of dark-stained wooden planks, each arched at the top and having small round holes.

Originally constructed as a house, as eary as 1931 it was utilized as a doctor's office. Dr. Stewart Fitch, a noted Pasadena osteopath, who lived at 1175 N. Los Robles, had his office here for numerous years.

This will all be just a memory soon, and what is proposed to replace it does not seem to fit the historic context of the neighborhood, with an immediately adjacent Queen Anne Victoria style bungalow and a National Register listed bungalow court and the Normandie Heights Landmark District.
Please take a look at the architectural renderings provided by the church and determine whether you think this design fits this prominent corner in our neighborhood. If you don't show up at the Design Commission meeting this Monday evening, January 25, 2010, then by default the church and the architect will say you have no problem with their plans for this modernistic sanctuary in our historic neighborhood. If you absolutely cannot attend the meeting, please send an email to the responsible planner by noon on Monday. His name is Kevin Johnson and his email is Let your voice and opinion be heard.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


The Royal Egyptian Feline Sharing Morning Coffee
The one who does not like to be photographed spent some time with me over coffee on a recent holiday morning. She is a royal, deigned to be pampered and carefully handled, and her spirit followed me home from a visit to the Cairo Museum of Antiquities and was reincarnated in Pasadena.
She keeps the ghosts and evil spirits away, as they do not like her passing through them. Zahi Hawass, Egypt's Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, discusses the ancient Egyptian cult of the feline and how the felines were used to protect the human's realm from evil.
On a recent sunny holiday morning the Royal and I shared a whispered conversation and a cup of coffee. I have a love of Turkish coffee and the coffee houses of Vienna, Prague and Budapest, although we have been known to visit the Original Pantry in downtown Los Angeles.
I am very lucky to be loved by this feline; she is happy when I'm free to spend time with her. This was a holiday gift for both of us! California - Land of Sunshine on the edge of the Continent!

Monday, January 4, 2010


(Oil on canvas, courtesy of the Armitrading Foundation - Mount Lowe collection)

Built by Professor T.S.C. Lowe in 1894 on Echo Mountain summit, the terminus of the Great Mount Lowe Incline Railway, the Echo Mountain House was a grand resort hotel in the style of Belle Epoque luxury, something never seen again in the Western United States after it burned to the ground in 1900, a sad loss to our beautiful mountain at the top of Lake Avenue.

The searchlight, purchased by Professor Lowe from the 1893 Columbian Exposition, was the strongest of its day, and was said to be able to illuminate a newspaper to be read at night in faraway Catalina Island. This was not the only artifact of the 1893 Columbian Exposition to end up in the area of Pasadena and Altadena. The McNally mansion has a Turkish Smoking Room Tower, puchased by Mr. McNally from the Turkish Pavilion at the fair and shipped and installed in his mansion in Altadena. The script on the ceiling of the smoking room appears in Arabic script and has been undecipherable to readers of Arabic, because it is in Turkish, since the Ottoman Empire used the Arabic script to write Turkish until Ataturk reformed and Europeanized the modern Turkish state after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, this being in the 1920's. Another hidden mystery of our ancient resort city.

Can this monumental historic hotel rise from the ashes? We hope to live long enough to see this beautiful monument to Professor Lowe's achievements be rebuilt, however, this time with fire sprinklers! They have rebuilt the demolished Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow and they are in the process of rebuilding the demolished Imperial Castle in Berlin (Berliner Stadtschloss), so why should we not have our Belle Epoque resort hotel back? I'm looking forward to sitting on a late summer's eve on the long front porch in a rocking chair, sipping a cool drink, with the valley floor's lights twinkling. We stayed a while back in a surviving similar resort hotel in the Great Smoky Mountains called the Balsam Inn and it was enchanting!

Here is to the future and a New Year!